New Brunswick

Workers at Brunswick smelter told to stay home hours before strike

About 12 hours before unionized employees at Brunswick Smelter in Belledune were to go on strike over a contract dispute, they were told not to work.

Employees were met Wednesday morning with letters telling them to go home with pay

Some members of Local 7085 of the United Steelworkers started protesting earlier than the planned strike time because they were locked out of their jobs at Glencore Canada's Brunswick smelter on Wednesday. (François Vigneault/Radio-Canada )

About 12 hours before unionized employees at the Brunswick lead smelter in Belledune were to go on strike over a contract dispute, they were told to stay out. 

"When the guys landed at the site this morning to go in for their shift, they were met at the gate and basically handed a letter stating that because of the strike notice that's going on they were told to go home, and they would be paid for the day," said Bart Dempsey, president of Local 7085 of the United Steelworkers.

"They were not allowed on the site." 

About 280 workers at the Glencore Canada-owned smelter planned to go on strike at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

A letter Dempsey said was given to employees stated, "safety remains paramount and we were concerned of an increased risk of accident with workers being distracted by the upcoming strike."

In an email to CBC News, Brunswick Smelter said the action wasn't a lockout because the company didn't serve notice. 

After being turned away at the gate, the union told members they could go home for the day or stay at the smelter to peacefully protest until the planned strike later in the day. Dempsey said some people chose to stay.

A statement from the smelter management said, "despite challenging economics, the company has offered a fair and reasonable proposal to the unionized employees."

Dempsey said the there are two main sticking points for the members. One is a change in the way the union is represented. Currently a full-time president is paid by the company and works out of an on-site office. 

Full-time union job would be gone

"They're looking to get rid of the full-time [union] president and basically pay a certain amount of hours outside of his regular hours to do union business, kind of on his own time," Dempsey said of the proposed change.

The company said its proposal, which would see the president paid for additional hours spent on union business, is fair.  

Another important issue, according to Dempsey is the full-time joint health and safety committee chair position, created after a strike in 1991.

The company proposes keeping the chair, but that person would be paid to carry out the responsibilities on a part-time basis.

Dempsey said if the company was concerned enough about safety to send workers home Wednesday, it should leave the chair to operate as is.

The union has been without a contract since February.   

About the Author

Tori Weldon

Reporter

Tori Weldon is a reporter based in Moncton. She's been working for the CBC since 2008.